The U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $240 million contract modification to build three more RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aircraft, each with integrated sensor suite and signals intelligence (Sigint) payloads, plus two Sigint payloads as retrofit kits. The new aircraft will join 18 Block 30 Global Hawks the service earlier planned to retire.
The “total cumulative face value” of the contract is $354.8 million—the modification is for the “definitization of the advance purchase agreement,” according to the Pentagon’s August 15 contract announcement. The Air Force expects the work will be completed by June 30, 2017.
Citing their relative costs, the Air Force in its Fiscal Year 2013 budget submission sought to cancel its acquisition and ongoing operation of the Block 30 Global Hawk in favor of retaining the Lockheed Martin U-2 manned reconnaissance aircraft. At the time in early 2012, Northrop Grumman was under contract to build 18 of the Block 30 RQ-4Bs and had delivered 14.
In its Fiscal Year 2015 budget request, however, the Air Force reversed its decision and proposed keeping the Global Hawks and beginning to retire the fleet of 33 U-2s the following fiscal year. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the service over several years had reduced the costs of operating the Global Hawk, which with its greater range and endurance is “a better high-altitude reconnaissance platform for the future.”
Both the U.S. House, which passed its version of the Fiscal Year 2015 defense appropriations bill in June, and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approved its version of the legislation in July, have expressed concern about retiring the U-2 and required the Air Force or Secretary of Defense to submit plans explaining how its capabilities will be replaced. The House Appropriations Committee said it will “review the progress of actions by the Air Force in this regard when the Fiscal Year 2016 budget request is submitted, and intends to take intervening action against full and immediate divestment of the U-2 fleet if such plans are not satisfactory.”